Sandra R. Campbell can trace her passion for the macabre back to reading Edgar Allan Poe as a child—with her pet crow, Big Fellow, by her side. She has since submerged herself in a wide range of dark literature. An avid thrill seeker, Sandra always looks for her next big adrenaline rush. And when spelunking, climbing, and monster hunting fail to deliver, she turns to creating through-the-rabbit-hole worlds and sends her characters on their own adventures. Her novels include Butterfly Harvest, Dark Migration, and most recently The Dead Days Journal.
I had the pleasure of meeting Sandra last year at the Creatures, Crimes, and Creativity conference, and was impressed with one of her panel discussions. She kindly agreed to the following interview.
Weldon Burge (WB): Well, let’s start with something a little different. I know you spend a good deal of time on the water and live near the Chesapeake Bay. Has this passion influenced your writing at all? If so, how?
Sandra Campbell (SC): Tranquil waterways and writing are big passions in my life. Water is my escape—a quiet paradise where I go to unwind and recharge. Writing is what I do when I need to create. After my move to the bay area I noticed more water settings and nautical terms popping up in my books, but other than that these two passions are very much separate.
WB: Your novels are often called paranormal romance. Would you debate that classification? Do you see the books as more paranormal or more romance? Or something else entirely?
SC: I would debate that classification. Relationships are a huge part of all of our lives, and so it’s only natural to include relationships in my writing. However, romances are known, if not formulated, to have happy endings. I have yet to write a happy ending. In fact, my critique group challenged me to write one. Two years later, I still haven’t managed to come up with a single happy ending.
My writing has always crossed genres. I prefer to make the story more about the character’s journey and less about the romance. The most common thing I hear from fans is that my works of fiction are unique. “Unique Fiction” would be a great new genre classification, but since it doesn’t exist (yet!), I’d say my books are paranormal thrillers. Fast-paced, action packed with a touch of intimacy and a monster on the side.
WB: Your first novel, Butterfly Harvest (and its sequel, Dark Migration) has as the protagonist a young girl, Seanna Raines, who meets an ancient being, Samuel, who imbues her with special powers. What gave you the idea for the books? And is this a planned trilogy?
SC: This is a planned trilogy: the third installment is in progress. As for the idea, there was more than one that led to the creation of the series. Since I am part of the 4% of the adult population that suffers from night-terrors, most of my writing ideas begin without my actual knowledge. I’ve learned that the subconscious mind is a powerful and useful writing tool. Have you ever woken up from a dream, only to realize you’re still asleep and dreaming? Well, I wanted to see if I could create that mysteriously eerie feeling in a book. Butterfly Harvest is about a misfit teen who wants to change her life, but doesn’t have the means to do so. She spends all her time daydreaming and when Samuel arrives the blurred lines between her reality and dreamscape take a turn for the worse.
WB: Who do you envision as your typical reader? Describe him or her as if the person is sitting across from you at the kitchen table.
SC: I picture my typical reader as youthful and energetic. They’re clever and open-minded, someone who is always ready to jump into a new experience. They take things as they come and adapt quickly to change. When they pick up a book, they can tap into their own imagination and visualize the words. For them, the author is a guide, because they are the ones who ultimately bring the story to life and make it their own.
If one of my readers was sitting across from me, I’d describe her as happy and polite. Her hair is swept into a ponytail and her blue running shoes are worn from plenty of use. Beside her sits a beat-up backpack that she carries with her always. The contents of the bag include the latest novel for bouts of spontaneous reading and a small first aid kit in case she takes a spill along the hiking trail.
WB: Your latest novel, The Dead Days Journal, is a post-apocalyptic novel focusing on survival—but the real focus, I think, is on the relationship between the father and daughter, Vincent and Leo Marrok. I’m just curious—how much research was required to write this tale? And, perhaps more important, why the conflict between father and daughter?
SC: Family dynamics are complicated and vary greatly from one family unit to the next. They also happen to be very interesting, to me anyway. Differences in culture, religion and upbringing have always fascinated me. More and more I’ve noticed the strongest families are not those of blood, but the ones of our own choosing. The bond between parent and child, or in this case a father and daughter, is a bond that should never be severed. But far too many headlines show the opposite happening. With mental illness on the rise there is an increase in reports of parents killing their children, and children murdering their parents.
In this story, Vincent has a rigid set of values that he’s instilled in his daughter, Leo. Throughout her struggle to survive, Leo stays true to her father’s teachings even when it means she has to destroy him. I think we’ve all witnessed family dysfunction in one form or another. My fictional tale just takes it to a new level of sinister. Families are about sacrifice and sometimes the choices one makes to ensure their loved ones’ safety goes beyond the rules of right and wrong. Leo is not only forced to walk that line, she has to redefine it.
WB: Do you work from an outline, or just wing it?
SC: The first two novels I wrote, Butterfly Harvest and Dark Migration, both had outlines that sprawled over twenty pages or more. However, The Dead Days Journal was completely off-the-cuff. I liked it. There was an extra added freedom to not knowing what would happen next. I kept that “anything goes” feeling from beginning to end.
WB: How do you find the time for your writing?
SC: Finding the time to write is very difficult. I work full-time and have a long commute. So, at the end of the day, the last thing I want to do is sit down in front of a computer—especially after having been on one all day. But I found that if I don’t purge my creative mind I get cranky.
WB: If you could go back a decade, what would you do differently in your writing career?
SC: I would have started writing seriously a whole lot sooner.
WB: Who are your favorite authors? Which one(s) do you most try to emulate?
SC: Christopher Moore, John Connolly, Clive Barker are just a few of many. I hope in some way I emulate a little piece of each of these fabulous authors: Moore’s odd sense of humor, Connolly’s charming wit, and of course, Barker’s exceptional gift for gore.
WB: What’s next on your writing agenda?
SC: This summer my focus will be on collaborative writing projects. The second weekend in August, I am teaching a collaborative writing workshop, with my writing partner, for the Mid-Atlantic Fiction Writers Institute. We also have a horror web-series that we are finishing on our fiction website: waterfrontwriters.com. After that, I will be working simultaneously on the third installment of the Butterfly Harvest series and the second book of The Dead Days Journal story.
WB: We originally met at the Creatures, Crimes, and Creativity conference, and I know you were involved in the panel discussions. How important do you think it is to attend writers’ conferences and conventions? What do you find most valuable about them?
SC: Writing conferences are extremely important and I never knew how much until I attended one. It’s been said that writing is a solitary task, but it’s not. Even writers need a support system. Being part of the writing community is vital to any writer. If you want to advance in your career and expand your knowledge, you have to make contacts, gain exposure, and learn the tricks-of-the-trade. Conferences and conventions are one-stop shopping, they have it all.
Once a writer realizes the benefits of a critique group, attending writing conferences, and communicating with other writers, their life as a writer becomes more enriched and perhaps a tad easier. I know for a fact that if I hadn’t joined the Maryland Writers’ Association, I never would have become the director of a critique group. I wouldn’t have a fiction website, or created a book-length web series, and I probably wouldn’t have finished my second novel. Well, at least not without the support of other writers.
WB: One last question, just for fun. If you were marooned on a tropical island with two other novelists, which ones would you prefer to share a palm tree with? And, aside from discussing survival tactics, what conversations would you hope to initiate?
SC: I’d like to share the shade of my palm tree with two horror greats—Clive Barker and Stephen King. I’d love to tap into their creative genius. Hopefully we’d spend our evenings sipping coconut milk and telling tales of the horrid monsters that are about to descend upon us at any moment.
WB: Thanks, Sandra!
For more on Sandra R. Campbell, visit her website at http://www.sandrarcampbell.com/.